Photos: UVA Defeats Duke in an Unusual Opener Marked by Pandemic Restrictions

Photos: UVA Defeats Duke in an Unusual Opener Marked by Pandemic Restrictions

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It was far from normal, but for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, University of Virginia players and fans were once again able to enjoy college football, even amid the strangeness of a global pandemic that left Scott Stadium nearly empty.

The Cavaliers defeated the Duke Blue Devils 38-20 in front of a very small crowd that, per public health regulations imposed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, was limited to 1,000 people. Tickets were limited to players’ and coaches’ families, who sat safely spaced apart and were required to wear masks. No tailgating was allowed on Grounds.

It was UVA’s first game of 2020, after last weekend’s match with Virginia Tech was rescheduled due to COVID-19 cases among Tech’s players. Speaking after the game, UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall called his team’s debut “surreal.”

“What a journey it has been just to play football,” Mendenhall said, speaking via videoconference in his post-game press conference. “It was a pretty surreal experience. There were many times throughout the game where I couldn’t believe we were playing and that it counted and it was for real.”

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Despite the obstacles of this offseason, the Cavaliers looked strong, as new starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong led the offense to a 38-point showing, while a tough defensive unit forced seven turnovers, including five interceptions.

And, Mendenhall noted, his players have continued to be extremely diligent about public health protocols. Players on both teams were tested for the virus before the match and cleared to play.

“I wanted so desperately for our players to have success on the field and have a tangible result to show for it, because of how diligent they’ve been in all the [COVID-19] protocols,” he said. “It could change for us tomorrow but to this point, they’ve really done a nice job.”

Check out some more photos of the game from University photographers Sanjay Suchak and Ziniu Chen, and UVA Athletics photographer Matt Riley, who were on hand to capture this very unusual gameday.

Jeff Ford, of the Virginia Athletics Foundation, directs a car to a parking spot. A limited crowd of 1,000 people, mostly players’ and coaches’ families, was on hand.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he was proud of how his team played – and how diligently they have adhered to public health guidelines since the pandemic began.
Players were excited to take the field Saturday after a long offseason wait, made even longer last week when the Cavaliers’ game with the Hokies was postponed.
Kicker Brian Delaney made his sole field goal attempt, a 32-yarder, and was 5 for 5 on extra points.
Wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr., left, and linebacker Charles Snowden were among Saturday’s stars for the Cavaliers.
UVA Athletics photographer Matt Riley trains his camera on the field. Riley said he missed “the pageantry of the game, the cheerleaders, the band and the fans. But at the end of the day it was still football and my main objective was to tell the story of the game and capture the moments of our student athletes.”
Armstrong played well in his first game as UVA’s starting quarterback, showing strength both running and passing the ball.
Davis, who is 6-foot-7, reached remarkable heights on several leaping grabs.
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Armstrong confers with coaches on the sidelines.
UVA students, limited to gatherings of five people, got creative. Third-year students Barnes Moreau, Nick Martin, Andrew Childers, Will Treene and Oliver Church gathered in their yard near the stadium to watch the game.
The Cavaliers stayed focused through several lead changes and pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Nick Grant grabs an interception.
Despite pandemic restrictions, the “Good Old Song” could still be heard.
Normally, the concourse would be packed with fans streaming into Scott Stadium.
But for now, a win, even under the lights in a near-empty stadium, gave the team, and its fans, a much-needed boost.

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